My daughter was adopted. Once. I say this to make a little point that it is not a chronic disease, or present tense verb. She knows all about it, and at funny, unexpected moments, likes to mention it to strangers and friends alike. I overheard her very recently taking to a friend about babies. I think they were playing dolls. Somehow, it seemed relevant to her to mention to her friend that I (as in “my mom”) had never ‘had’ a baby. Her friend scoffed and said, “what about you, silly?” H mentioned very casually “I have another mother. I was a baby in her tummy, and then I was my mom’s.” Her poor little friend, who had never hear a word of this story before, wasn’t sure at all how to take it, and so they picked a new subject. Just as it should be. The sky is blue, dinosaurs rock, I was adopted once. But, just to put a little parenthesis on it, H ended the story the way she always does. “My mom always wanted me.” And if you’re at all confused, by mom, she means me.
This week will be Mother’s Day, and I can’t ever let it pass without a little hail Mary and a shout out to the good Lord who sent her my way, and let me keep her after all. I DID always want her-every curly haired, cleft chinned, brown eyed, yell-talking, funky toed inch of her. And the minute I saw her, I knew. You may call it revisionist history, but I was there. She is as right as she knows. We are a pearl and a pea in a pod. We chafe against each other sometimes because we’re made of different material, but from even a very small distance, you would never guess it. And we fit together just the same.
She likes to hear stories about when I was a child. It surprises me sometimes how interested she is in them, and how bored by stories about herself. “Let me tell you about the first time your father saw you” I’ll offer, and she’ll roll her eyes and sigh, and say with bored intonation “I know, I KNOW. He said you never told him how pretty I was” she says in a sing song voice, as though it’s too tired for comment. And then she requests a new story about old times. “Tell me a story about when you were a kid,” she insists.
Someday, I hope she knows how spectacular and miraculous our life as a family is. Sometimes, I’m ashamed to admit, I forget. Our big anniversary is the 4th of July, but even that frequently passes without comment, as often happens in our sing song lives. The miraculous becomes mundane, and we look for a new story to tell. But sometimes, the old ones are best.
In biblical times, it was practice to build an alter out of a pile of rocks each time God did something worth remembering, a kindness, to his people. I often reflect on this practice, and think about the wisdom there is in it, because we are all so human. And to be human is to forget. It is to be swept away by the latest and greatest worry or desire, and to forget all the moments of grace and redemption that have come before. It is so easy to forget about the near misses and last minute resolutions that we experience; to be consumed by worries about the future. I think this is why God once commanded his people to build alters. He knew they’d wander past them every once in awhile in the literal desert of their despair, and remember their blessings. Sometimes, we need rocks to remember. We need a reminder, so we can tell ourselves and our children the stories of what went right.
My sister posted a picture of my niece today, a three year old mini-her, getting ready for a CT scan, for her one year check up after a major surgery that corrected a condition that, in another country, another decade, or even on another health plan, could have left her blind and retarded. Instead, she is a healthy, happy, spunky, naughty, delicious 2 year old, with white blond hair, a Samantha Mortenson overbite, and a penchant for charming the pants off anything that moves. These healthy, happy girls, hers and mine, are not small miracles. They are our personal Illiads. And I think we are equally grateful for our happy endings. I know they don’t happen to everyone; that’s what makes happy endings remarkable.
I saw an image today that was too terrible for inclusion, but to give a context, it was in reference to the atrocities committed by Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia “doctor” who essentially murdered hundreds of babies in what is euphemistically called “late term abortion.” I can’t read about this without thinking that each of the children murdered by the practice may have been the child another woman, like me, “always wanted,” as my Bean likes to say. Every fairy tale is built around a nightmare-if you don’t believe, pick up an original copy of Pinnochio or Sleeping Beauty-and this is no different. As we think about the gifts of motherhood, they are framed in stark contrast against the losses. My daughter’s birth relative (mother) didn’t know she was pregnant until she was 3 months along; apparently, Philadelphia allows abortion until 24 weeks. Think about that-that’s 6 months.
Holidays are like alters; they sit there on the calender, waiting until we come around again, to remind us of different important truths. May your mother’s day be as blessed as a pile of rocks, whether it is with stories you mother told you, or stories you have told your children; Happy Mother’s Day mommies everywhere, and 100 cranes for those who dream of the child they have always wanted; a toast to your first rock.